John Klein: Practice kicks off Chili Bowl events
BY JOHN KLEIN Senior Sports Columnist
Monday, January 07, 2013
1/07/13 at 7:01 AM
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The Tulsa shootout is not as famous as the Chili Bowl Nationals, but if you are a serious challenger to win the Golden Driller given to the Chili Bowl champ, you probably got your start in the Shootout.
The Tulsa Shootout, with nearly 900 entries in a handful of classes from mini-sprints to midgets, held its championship race in the Expo Center on Dec. 30.
There were race car drivers from ages 7 to 60 hoping to gain the experience and exposure to move up to the Chili Bowl Nationals.
"The Tulsa Shootout is like AAA baseball," said Chili Bowl promoter and co-founder Emmett Hahn. "Not everybody can start in the big leagues."
The Chili Bowl, the kickoff for auto racing's season, gets under way on Monday with practice on the Tulsa Expo Speedway at the QuikTrip Center.
It continues with Tuesday's Vacuworx Invitational Race of Champions and includes qualifying all week leading up to the championship races on Saturday.
There are a limited number of tickets available for Tuesday's events.
Otherwise, as usual, the Chili Bowl is a sellout, one of the most successful and popular events in American auto racing.
The Chili Bowl actually grew from the Tulsa Shootout, an event that started a year before the Chili Bowl debut in 1987.
"The Shootout is what we did to find out if this crazy idea would even work," said Hahn. "The Shootout was what we did to see if we could build a track in this building and make it work with pits and grandstands for fans.
"And we had to figure out if race car drivers were even interested in doing something like this. What we found out is that race car drivers were eager for something like this and that fans were very interested."
The Tulsa Shootout remains as a preliminary event for the Chili Bowl Nationals, the major event during the transformation of the Expo Center into a midget auto racing track.
With the Shootout's nearly 900 entries and the Chili Bowl's more than 250, that's about 1,100 race car drivers and teams in Tulsa during a 17-day period.
"Not bad for some crazy idea we had," said Hahn.
Hahn estimates more than 60,000 fans will attend the Chili Bowl.
That's been a typical crowd for nearly a decade.
The configuration for the Chili Bowl, the positioning of the track and grandstands and pits, has changed little since 2000.
"We've always tinkered with it over the years to try to make it better for the racers and the fans," said Hahn. "But, we reached a point at which we couldn't really do anything different. We kind of maxed out at what we could do.
"To be honest, I never really thought I was smart enough to make this thing work. So, I'm definitely not smart enough to screw it up by making some changes."
It is a long process to transform the Expo Center into an indoor auto racing facility.
Preparations began on Dec. 16 when they started bringing in 682 truckloads of dirt to build the track.
The Tulsa Shootout had close to 20 classes of racing over the years, but a year ago Hahn eliminated about a dozen. Gone are the divisions for go-karts and quads.
"We're down to seven classes, and we still got nearly 900 entries," said Hahn.
The Shootout is a traditional training ground for future Chili Bowl drivers and teams.
"Ricky Stenhouse (NASCAR's two-time defending Nationwide Series champion) ran in the Shootout for several years and won some of the events," said Hahn. "When you look at the results of the Shootout races over the years, you'll see a lot of drivers who have gone on to win much bigger and more prestigious titles.
"It is a great training ground. It gives all of these guys a place to start."
And, if you win enough, it can lead to the Chili Bowl, the major leagues of midget racing.
"My grandson did very well in the Tulsa Shootout a couple of years ago and the next thing you know he got a ride for the Chili Bowl," said Hahn. "That's what all of this is about for us.
"The Shootout, Chili Bowl, everything we do is supposed to be fun. If it wasn't fun, and didn't give all of these folks a chance, it wouldn't be what it is."
Lucas Oil Chili Bowl Nationals
Monday: All-day practice sessions
Tuesday: Warren CAT Qualifying Night plus VIROC V Invitational Race of Champions
Wednesday: River Spirit Casino Qualifying Night
Thursday: John Christner Trucking Qualifying Night
Friday: Vacuworx Global Qualifying Night
Saturday: Lucas Oil/General Tire Championship Feature Events
Kevin Swindell (2010, '11, '12), Sammy Swindell (1989, 1992, '96, '98, 2009), Damion Gardner (2008), Tony Stewart (2002 and '07), Tim McCreadie (2006), Tracy Hines (2005), Cory Kruseman (2000 and '04), Dan Boorse (1999 and 2003), Jay Drake (2001), Billy Boat (1997), Donnie Beechler (1995), Andy Hillenburg (1994), Dave Blaney (1993), Lealand McSpadden (1991), Jon Heydenreich (1990), Scott Hatton (1988), Rich Vogler (1987).
The trade show is always a popular attraction at the Chili Bowl Nationals. It is open to the public Tuesday through Saturday free of charge. All variety of racing products, apparel and more is available with more than 100 vendors. The trade show covers approximately 20,000 square feet.
Tickets: A limited number of reserved seats for Tuesday night's Warren CAT Qualifying Event and the VIROC V Invitational Race of Champions are available for $43 per person and may be obtained by calling 918-838-3777 or at the gate if still available. Pit passes for all five nights are available at the gate as well.
Chili Bowl online: All official news regarding the Chili Bowl Nationals can be found at tulsaworld.com/chilibowl Live online audio of each night can be found at tulsaworld.com/racinboys
For more information on the Chili Bowl, see tulsaworld.com/chilibowl or call 918-838-3777.